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Enrique GRANADOS (1867–1916)
Maria del Carmen - Opera in Three Acts (1898) [1:43:21]
María del Carmen – Diana Veronese (soprano)
Concepción – Larisa Kostyuk (mezzo)
Fuensanta – Silvia Vázquez (soprano)
Pencho – Jesús Suaste (baritone)
Javier – Dante Alcalá (tenor)
Domingo – Gianfranco Montresor (baritone)
Don Fulgencio – David Curry (tenor)
Pepuso – Alberto Arrabal (baritone)
Migalo – Stewart Kempster (bass)
Antón – Ricardo Mirabelli (tenor)
Roque – Alex Ashworth (baritone)
Andrés – Nicholas Sharratt (tenor)
Un cantaor huertano – Vicenç Esteve (tenor)
Wexford Festival Opera Chorus
National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus/Max Bragado-Darman
rec. Theatre Royal, Wexford, 23, 26, 29 October 2003
NAXOS 8.660144-45 [43:33 + 59:48]

The hothouse opera by Enrique Granados is not making its first appearance on MusicWeb International. When first issued at full price onMarco Polo (8.225292-93 - review) it was authoritatively reviewed by that doyen of the Iberian musical stage, Chris Webber who is the guiding intelligence behind We come to different conclusions as to Maria Del Carmen's musical worth but his review is a rewarding and well informed read, to say the very least.

The opera's subject involves the interplay of rustic passion. The mise-en-scčne is no palace and princes and princesses are nowhere to be seen. This is an opera like those by Dvořák, Delius and Mascagni where a rustic setting provides a backdrop. Granados opts for the dynamics of a countryside love-triangle interacting with a water shortage and farmer-farmer family hatred. In this it can be contrasted with the grander schemes offered by Albeniz's Merlin (review review) and Henry Clifford (review review) both recorded by Decca. Yet it has a more potent emotional kick than the well populated mainstream of zarzuela which tends to approach such situations with a lighter emotional palette.

I will not go into any more detail - you get the picture. The committed listener who will want more gets a useful synopsis across two pages of the leaflet together with a scene-setter by Justo Romero. The Spanish libretto - no translation into English it seems - is said to be on the Naxos website but when I looked on 9 October it was not there. The Naxos synopsis painstakingly keys the recording into the track numbers and is good in that respect. CD 1 is in 16 tracks and there are 24 tracks on CD 2. This is very considerate. Each track is titled (Spanish only - not so considerate) with an indication of which characters appear in which track. Good work.

Maria Del Carmen was a great success at its 1898 premiere. No wonder: it has a surging Puccinian ripeness at times (CD2 tr. 8) while at others it has an imposing chivalric grandeur despite its rustic setting. You can hear this in the choral Viva Maria (CD2 tr. 11). Tracks 15-16 early on in act III boast some exultant-ecstatic singing from the principals. Opera buffs need to hear this glorious music. It's all most lissomly orchestrated as in the Disponte episode with a solo violin idea tastefully developed (CD2 tr. 21). The Spanish sauce is lightly applied by Granados although it's certainly noticeable in the understated yet transfixing Preludio to Act I and also in the orchestral preface to Mirala (CD1 tr 9). The orchestral contribution should not be underestimated. It's a score rife with striking invention, smoothly conspiratorial work for the violins and plenty of immediately engaging woodwind writing. All in all it makes for quite an evening with some regal singing, especially from Diana Veronese in the title role. The finale has the musical and emotional heft to round out what must have been a fine evening. End-of-Act applause has been kept in. The singing is enjoyable and the orchestral playing by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus is more than up to the mark. The recording yields up detail and broad-based impact given that the recording was made in an opera house in front of an admittedly very well behaved audience rather than in a studio.

Naxos have done a great deal for Granados. Quite apart from the piano and chamber music there are four volumes of his orchestral music. These include the Suite Sobre Cantos Gallegos (review) and Dante (review). There's a revival of Liliana not far behind (8.573265).

Maria Del Carmen is a fine three-act work running to about 15 minutes short of two hours (Act I: 43:33; Act II: 36:34; Act III: 23:14). It stands as part of the tradition developed later by Guridi for the deeply impressive Amaya. We must hope for more in this vein. More Granados in the shape of the stage works Blancaflor, Petrarca, Picarol, Follet and Gaziel and the stage poem Liliana would also be welcomed. Pedrell's name keeps popping up in connection with Gerhard but he also happened to be one of Granados's teachers. Note-writer Justo Romero - who is very active with Naxos in the Granados renaissance - mentions Pedrell's lyric trilogy Els Pirineus (1902) so there's plenty more for Wexford and Naxos to do. Meantime enjoy this rapturous and confidently performed opera.

Rob Barnett


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